Voices from Accenture Public Service

Tradition. Almost every college and university prides itself on this concept. In the past, traditions often shaped an institution’s identity and informed the student experience. But today, maintaining tradition in higher education sometimes hinders meaningful progress and, therefore, student success.

But let’s step back for a moment. What is student success? Educational institutions have historically defined it as the improvement of retention and graduation rates, citing it as one of their top priorities, in part because these metrics are often tied to formula funding. The problem with this definition is that it focuses on traditional norms and primarily represents the institution’s own perspective and goals. It fails to consider the behaviors and expectations of the modern student, where nontraditional has become the new norm.

Today’s students have grown up in an era of Amazon, Netflix and Uber. They expect personalized and flexible experiences – with experiences being the key concept. Today’s students don’t always go to four-year institutions, and their goals are often broader than simply earning a diploma. They want experiential learning, a flexible course curriculum which offers both classroom and online interactions, and more intuitive digital experiences.

student success _85% of students say high-quality digital experiences impact their overall campus satisfaction rates_student success
Accenture student smart campus research 2017

For these students, success is determined by how well an institution delivers tailored experiences and meaningful engagement before, during and after they earn a degree or credential. This is a new frontier where university and student expectations need to better align. And it doesn’t matter whether an institution’s digital experiences are perceived as better than that of a peer. Students aren’t comparing peer institutions – they’re comparing against experiences they’ve grown accustomed to in other areas of their lives. To stay relevant, it’s time for colleges and universities to shift focus and begin to redefine student success.

Many schools primarily develop strategies to improve student success by measuring and analyzing past student data and behavior. This is a good starting point, but limiting analysis to historical data risks irrelevancy in an age where rapid changes in technology constantly alter behaviors and expectations. (Explore this approach to data further in our 2018 Tech Vision).

To gain a more current 360-degree view of each student and to drive meaningful engagement through real-time interactions, a more proactive approach is needed.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Easier said than done.” It’s hard to keep up with all the latest technology trends. For one thing, cost is a major concern. Students, parents, state legislators and the federal government all scrutinize rising higher education costs and demand more accountability. One way institutions can respond to this challenge is by integrating student experience into the student success equation. Thanks to technology, delivering meaningful, more personalized experiences is finally possible. As an example, new artificial intelligence capabilities are empowering student advisors to focus on more high-value tasks and increase one-on-one interactions with students who need hands-on support. And the beauty of today’s technology is that it can be cost-effective.  Tangible results don’t necessarily require huge investments – just a cultural willingness to adapt.

And the sooner the better, because this challenge will only grow. Institutional success is ultimately dependent on student success. To move forward, schools need to embrace innovation and leverage technology to manage and scale their engagement with students from recruitment to graduation and beyond.

The goal of this blog series is to explore practical ways to measure and improve the quality of student experiences to drive meaningful engagement across the entire student lifecycle. The next blog will highlight some innovative strategies for using emerging technologies to improve student experiences and success.

We are eager to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment or discover more insights from our research (Making the Grade) at https://www.accenture.com/digitalstudent.

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